Literature

Jonathan Ames on Anthony Powell

August 27, 2015
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Jonathan Ames on Anthony Powell

The novelist and occasional raconteur Jonathan Ames was asked by the Big Issue to name his “Top 5 Books for American Anglophiles.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, he named a cadre of authors instead, Anthony Powell among them, and Ames had this to say, in particular, about Powell and his work: About 15 years ago some snobby writer in New York told me he was reading Powell’s epic 12-novel series, A Dance to the Music of Time, and wanting to be this writer’s intellectual peer (a hopeless endeavour), I set out to read it as well. I spent nearly a year absorbing all 12 books, and especially enjoyed the beautiful edition that had been put out by the University of Chicago Press—the spines of the books, when all lined up, formed the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin, which had been, in part, Powell’s inspiration for the work. A lot of Dance was rather boring but it was also quite wonderful to follow Powell’s characters over 70 years, and I saw resonance in my own life—how we keep re-encountering the same people over and over, how we keep struggling with the same issues over and over. Powell certainly intended this, as he wished to . . .

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Ramie Targoff shortlisted for the Christian Gauss Award

August 25, 2015
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Ramie Targoff shortlisted for the Christian Gauss Award

The Phi Beta Kappa Society recently announced the shortlists for their 2015 book awards, and several books published by university presses made the cut. The awards include the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award (which honors the book “that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity”), and the Christian Gauss Award, described below: The Christian Gauss Award goes to books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. The prize, created in 1960, honors the late Christian Gauss, the distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher, and dean who also served as President of The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Among those books shortlisted for the Gauss Award was Ramie Targoff’s Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England, which considers the boundaries that Renaissance English poets drew between earthly and heavenly existence, as they transformed the concept of posthumous love—so dominant in the days of Dante and Petrarch—and instead introduced a new mode of poetics that derived its emotional and aesthetic power from its insistence upon love’s mortal limits. Winners—each of whom will receive a $10,000 prize—will be announced on October 1, 2015. To read more about Posthumous Love, click here. . . .

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Excerpt: The Dead Ladies Project

August 21, 2015
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Excerpt: The Dead Ladies Project

“Berlin/William James” from Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries *** Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help! William James, Varieties of Religious Experience   “You’re in Berlin because you feel like a failure.” I had met this man all of ten minutes ago and he was already summing me up neatly. I made subtle readjustments to my clothing, as if it had been a wayward bra strap or an upwardly mobile hemline that had given me away. More likely it was my blank stare in response to his question, “So, what brings you to Berlin?” He has had to do this a lot, I imagine: greet lost boys and girls, still wild with jet lag, still unsure how to make ourselves look less obviously like what we are, we members of the Third Great Wave of American Expatriation to Berlin. This man before me was second on the list of names that everyone gets from worried friends when resettling overseas: Everyone I Know in the City to Which You Are Moving (Not Totally Vouched For). I had lasted about a week before I sent e-mails tinged with panic to everyone on my list. . . .

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August 5, 1949: Young Men and Fire

August 5, 2015
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August 5, 1949: Young Men and Fire

August 5, 2015, marks the 66th anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, which eventually spread to cover 4,500 acres of Montana’s Gates of the Mountain Wilderness in Helena National Forest, and claimed the lives of 12 of the 15 elite US Forest Service Smokejumpers, who acted as first responders in the moments before the blaze jumped up a slope and “blew up” its surrounding grass. Haunted by the event, Montana native, author, and former University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean devoted much of his life’s work to researching and writing an account of the events that unfolded that first week of August 1949, which would met publication posthumously two years after Maclean’s death as Young Men and Fire. The book, now considered a classic reconstruction of an American tragedy and a premier piece of elegiac memoir qua historical non-fiction, went on to win a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. Below follows an excerpt. *** Then Dodge saw it. Rumsey and Sallee didn’t, and probably none of the rest of the crew did either. Dodge was thirty-three and foreman and was supposed to see; he was in front where he could see. Besides, he hadn’t liked what he had seen when he looked down . . .

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Our free e-book for August: Traveling in Place

August 3, 2015
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Our free e-book for August: Traveling in Place

Our free e-book for August: Bernd Stiegler’s Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel Armchair travel may seem like an oxymoron. Doesn’t travel require us to leave the house? And yet, anyone who has lost herself for hours in the descriptive pages of a novel or the absorbing images of a film knows the very real feeling of having explored and experienced a different place or time without ever leaving her seat. No passport, no currency, no security screening required—the luxury of armchair travel is accessible to us all. In Traveling in Place, Bernd Stiegler celebrates this convenient, magical means of transport in all its many forms. Organized into twenty-one “legs”—or short chapters—Traveling in Place begins with a consideration of Xavier de Maistre’s 1794 Voyage autour de ma chambre,an account of the forty-two-day “journey around his room” Maistre undertook as a way to entertain himself while under house arrest. Stiegler is fascinated by the notion of exploring the familiar as though it were completely new and strange. He engages writers as diverse as Roussel, Beckett, Perec, Robbe-Grillet, Cortázar, Kierkegaard, and Borges, all of whom show how the everyday can be brilliantly transformed. Like the best guidebooks, Traveling in Place is . . .

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The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

July 9, 2015
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The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

From a recent piece in the New Yorker by Stephen Burt on the plight/flight of the little magazine in the digital age: Ditto machines in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, offset printing and, in the past two decades, Web-based publishing have made it at least seem easier for each new generation. In 1980, the Pushcart Press—known for its annual Pushcart Prizes—published a seven-hundred-and-fifty-page brick of a book, “The Little Magazine in America,” of memoirs and interviews with editors of small journals. “The Little Magazine in Contemporary America,” a much more manageable collection of interviews and essays that was published in April, looks at the years since then, the years that included—so say the book’s editors, Ian Morris and Joanne Diaz— “the end of the ascendancy of print periodicals,” meaning that the best small litmags have moved online. The Little Magazine in America does indeed chronicle the history and trajectory of the “little magazine” through the past half-century of American life, from its origins in universities, urban centers and rural fringes, and among self-identified peers. Featuring contributions from the editors of BOMB and n + 1  to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and the Women’s Review of Books, Morris and Diaz’s collection pays special attention to the fate of these idiosyncratic cultural touchstones in an age fueled . . .

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Doña Barbara: Our free e-book for July

July 6, 2015
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Doña Barbara: Our free e-book for July

Our free e-book for July is Doña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegos (“a Madame Bovary of the llano,” as Larry McMurtry hails it in his Foreword). *** Rómulo Gallegos is best known for being Venezuela’s first democratically elected president. But in his native land he is equally famous as a writer responsible for one of Venezuela’s literary treasures, the novel Doña Barbara. Published in 1929 and all but forgotten by Anglophone readers, Doña Barbara is one of the first examples of magical realism, laying the groundwork for later authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Following the epic struggle between two cousins for an estate in Venezuela, Doña Barbara is an examination of the conflict between town and country, violence and intellect, male and female. Doña Barbara is a beautiful and mysterious woman—rumored to be a witch—with a ferocious power over men. When her cousin Santos Luzardo returns to the plains in order to reclaim his land and cattle, he reluctantly faces off against Doña Barbara, and their battle becomes simultaneously one of violence and seduction. All of the action is set against the stunning backdrop of the Venezuelan prairie, described in loving detail. Gallegos’s plains are filled with dangerous ranchers, . . .

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The Dead Ladies Project at Public Books

June 17, 2015
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The Dead Ladies Project at Public Books

From Nandini Ramachandran’s review of The Dead Ladies Project at Public Books: The Dead Ladies Project is part of a long literary tradition of single ladies having adventures. As a genre, it has had to contend with the collective energies of late capitalism (which tries to convert all adventure into tourism), patriarchy (which tries to make all single women into threatening and/or pathetic monsters), and publishing (which tries to repackage and flatten all women who write into “women writers”). It does, on the whole, remarkably well, perhaps because it’s written by insightful people who have resisted, for an entire century, the call to cynicism. It’s easy, these days, to be jaded about human relationships, to believe that they have been fabricated and marketed and focus-grouped into torpor and that no one remains capable of an authentic emotion. Jessa Crispin, like so many writers before her, flatly refuses to believe that. She insists on the fleeting, transcendental passion, the abjection of unrequited longing, the thrill and terror of waking up in an alien city. She insists, further, that a woman can revel in all that tumult. (I choose this excerpt as the best teaser for the book, yet a part earlier on, a . . .

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Anthony C. Yu (1938–2015)

May 21, 2015
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Anthony C. Yu (1938–2015)

Anthony C. Yu (1938−2015)—scholar, translator, teacher—passed away earlier this month, following a brief illness. As the Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, Yu fused a knowledge of Eastern and Western approaches in his broadranging humanistic inquiries. Perhaps best known for his translation of The Journey to the West, a sixteenth-century Chinese novel about a Tang Dynasty monk who travels to India to obtain sacred texts, which blends folk and institutionalized national religions with comedy, allegory, and the archetypal pilgrim’s tale. Published in four volumes by the University of Chicago Press, Yu’s pathbreaking translation spans more than 100 chapters; an abridged version of the text appeared in 2006 (The Monkey and the Monk), and just recently, in 2012, Yu published a revised edition. In addition to JttW, Yu’s scholarship explored Chinese, English, and Greek literature, among other fields, as well as the classic texts of comparative religion. He was a member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Academia Sinica, and served as a board member of the Modern Language Association, as well as a Guggenheim and Mellon Fellow. From the University of Chicago . . .

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Excerpt: Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere

April 16, 2015
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Excerpt: Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere

An excerpt from Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere by Georges Perec *** Madera was heavy. I grabbed him by the armpits and went backwards down the stairs to the laboratory. His feet bounced from tread to tread in a staccato rhythm that matched my own unsteady descent, thumping and banging around the narrow stairwell. Our shadows danced on the walls. Blood was still flowing, all sticky, seeping from the soaking wet towel, rapidly forming drips on the silk lapels, then disappearing into the folds of the jacket, like trails of slightly glinting snot side-tracked by the slightest roughness in the fabric, sometimes accumulating into drops that fell to the floor and exploded into star-shaped stains. I let him slump at the bottom of the stairs, right next to the laboratory door, and then went back up to fetch the razor and to mop up the bloodstains before Otto returned. But Otto came in by the other door at almost the same time as I did. He looked at me uncomprehendingly. I beat a retreat, ran down the stairs, and shut myself in the laboratory. I padlocked the door and jammed the wardrobe up against it. He came down a . . .

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